Ni-modified Fe3O4(001) surface as a simple model system for understanding the oxygen evolution reaction

F. Mirabella, M. Müllner, T. Touzalin, M. Riva, Z. Jakub, F. Kraushofer, M. Schmid, M. T. M. Koper, G. S. Parkinson, U. Diebold

Institut für Angewandte Physik, TU Wien, 1040 Wien, Austria
Leiden Institute of Chemistry, Leiden University, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands

Electrochim. Acta 389 (2021) 138638

Electrochemical water splitting is an environmentally friendly technology to store renewable energy in the form of chemical fuels. Among the earth-abundant first-row transition metal-based catalysts, mixed Ni-Fe oxides have shown promising performance for effective and low-cost catalysis of the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) in alkaline media, but the synergistic roles of Fe and Ni cations in the OER mechanism remain unclear. In this work, we report how addition of Ni changes the reactivity of a model iron oxide catalyst, based on Ni deposited on and incorporated in a magnetite Fe3O4(001) single crystal, using a combination of surface science techniques in ultra-high vacuum such as low energy electron diffraction (LEED), x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), low-energy ion scattering (LEIS), and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), as well as atomic force microscopy (AFM) in air, and electrochemical methods such as cyclic voltammetry (CV) and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) in alkaline media. A significant improvement in the OER activity is observed when the top surface presents an iron fraction among the cations in the range of 20-40%, which is in good agreement with what has been observed for powder catalysts. Furthermore, a decrease in the OER overpotential is observed following surface aging in electrolyte for three days. At higher Ni load, AFM shows the growth of a new phase attributed to an (oxy)-hydroxide phase which, according to CV measurements, does not seem to correlate with the surface activity towards OER. EIS suggests that the OER precursor species observed on the clean and Ni-modified surfaces are similar and Fe-centered, but form at lower overpotentials when the surface Fe:Ni ratio is optimized. We propose that the well-defined Fe3O4(001) surface can serve as a model system for understanding the OER mechanism and establishing the structure-reactivity relation on mixed Fe-Ni oxides.

Corresponding author: Ulrike Diebold (diebold at iap_tuwien_ac_at).

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